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The Little Things in Conflict

Sherlock Holmes said:

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” (Case of Identity)

When it comes to interpersonal conflict it is often the case that the little things build up and ultimately grow into a dispute. But, the dispute does not always reveal what the source is. That is, when a dispute erupts it is frequently because of the accumulation of historical insults, hurts and blaming. This is as opposed to the thing said or done in the moment that appears to have resulted in the dispute and that thing may seem little at the time.

Typically, when the little things start to irritate us we react in various ways. For instance, we might make light of it, make excuses for the other person or our reaction, or not really feel sufficiently provoked to say anything. Then, at some point, the repetition of one or more of these irritants begins to have an impact on us. We might mention them to the other person at some point – or, we might not.

In any case, whatever the little things are, if the words, attitude, behaviours, etc. continue to occur, our tolerance lessens and our irritation grows. Interpersonal tension increases and the dispute takes on a different form than it might had we addressed things as they arose. Sometimes, the little things get lost, though they are pivotal to the conflict dynamic that unfolds.

For this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog, I invite you to consider a dispute that occurred in your life when the little things accumulated.

  • What is the dispute about that ultimately evolved?
  • What little thing (or things) first started you becoming provoked and is likely at the root of the dispute that ultimately erupted?
  • What is most important to you about each of those little things (or the one little thing) – just referred to – that you find particularly irritating?
  • What was the impact of the provoking thing or things you referred to when they started to irritate you? How about when they continued?
  • How long did you (or have you) put up with the little thing(s) before saying something, if you have?
  • What did you say when the little thing(s) ultimately got to you, if you have?
  • What didn’t you say that you wished you had when you began to get irritated?
  • What do you suppose stopped you from addressing the little things earlier?
  • What are the upsides of letting little things build up? What are the downsides?
  • Considering the conflict you had in mind here and the questions you answered, what is your learning?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

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